Abnormal Pap test results can be worrisome, but often they're caused by benign, easily treatable issues. At Women’s Health Specialists, colposcopy is used to help determine the cause of abnormal Pap test results in women and in other cases where a more detailed evaluation is necessary.

What is a colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a diagnostic exam that is performed in the office using a special magnifying scope called a colposcope to evaluate the vaginal canal and the cervix. Colposcopy is often used to provide additional information following an abnormal Pap test result or when specific signs or symptoms are present, including sores and abnormal spotting between periods.

How is colposcopy performed?

Colposcopy begins in the same way as a routine pelvic exam, using a speculum to widen the vaginal canal so the tissues lining the canal and the cervix can be clearly seen. A special solution will be applied to the tissues lining the vaginal canal and the cervix to make abnormal areas more visible. The colposcope will be positioned at the end of the vaginal canal, and a bright light will be directed into the vagina for easier viewing through a special magnifying lens. A camera may also be attached to the colposcope to take images for further analysis and record-keeping. If an unusual area of tissue is identified, small samples of tissue, or biopsies, will be taken so they can be evaluated under a microscope. Most colposcopies take about 15 to 20 minutes to perform and are completely painless.

What kind of issues can cause abnormal Pap test results?

When a Pap test returns an abnormal result, most women are concerned that means they have cancer. While an abnormal result may, in some cases, indicate that cancer is present, most abnormal Pap test results are not due to cancer but are caused instead by viral infections, such as an infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV) or yeast. Hormonal fluctuations may also cause an abnormal Pap test result. Colposcopy can help determine the cause of an abnormal Pap test result so the most appropriate treatment can be administered, and additional follow-up tests can be recommended as needed.